At this time of the year the question, “Will we get in the house before Christmas?” is probably the most asked of all housing market professionals involved in the property chain. Certainly, advisers and conveyancers will be taking the brunt of such expectation from clients hoping they’ll be putting up the tinsel and Christmas tree in their new abode rather than attempting to do so amongst a half-packed house they want to leave. It is invariably a busy time, followed traditionally by a rather quieter January with cases not having such a rigid timescale to work within.
At present however, Christmas cheer in the conveyancing market might well be in short supply. Not only have we had the buy-to-let stamp duty bombshell dropped by George Osborne in last month’s Autumn Statement – a decision I have been widely quoted on as potentially delivering market ‘mayhem’ up until the end of March – but there was a recent YouGov survey which showed that home buyers’ experience of the conveyancing process was not all it perhaps should be.
Such surveys do of course come with many caveats attached to them – for instance what conveyancing firm did they actually use? Any fool knows that the service you receive will differ greatly depending on who is actually delivering it and therefore perhaps we should be taking these views with a large pinch of salt. It would of course have been nice to see what the differing service views were of those clients using specialist larger conveyancing operators rather than high-street/family/smaller firms. However, we have not been afforded such detail.
But there are still industry-wide lessons to be learnt from these results and we as a conveyancing industry should all take note. Firstly 42% of those 1,373 UK-based home buyers surveyed said the process was too complicated and slow – again, this will depend greatly on the type of transaction, the conveyancer/lender used, the length of the purchase chain they were in, the list goes on. But I don’t believe the overall sentiment is untrue – we have been saying for many years that the sometimes archaic processes employed by some conveyancing firms (and the system as a whole) do not make for the greatest service ever delivered.
Indeed, while technological advances have been made in small pockets of the industry, many firms completing very small numbers of cases – over a very long period of time – often appear to be using the equivalent of parchment and quill with their cases rather than any sort of digital system. Which is why I think almost a quarter of those surveyed also felt that the process was in need of modernisation. You might also like to know that just 4% felt the process was ‘quick’ – perhaps just those who used Broker Conveyancing panel members?
Even if that might be stretching the truth, it’s certainly a point to consider for advisers who recommend conveyancing firms to their clients. While you’re unable to control what others are doing in the chain, for example, the firms they are using, you can offer your client the best chance of being one of those 4%. And ultimately this has to be the right way ahead because only by placing those clients with the firms who give them the best chance of completion within the desired timescale, can we begin to get those satisfaction levels to rise across the board.
As we end the year and look ahead to what promises to be an incredibly busy period for conveyancing firms – especially those who are dealing with buy-to-let cases – there should be a small amount of time over the holidays to reflect on how you can do best by your client.
For a start if you are not involved in conveyancing advice, then why not? Without it being a part of your proposition, you run the risk of allowing the client to go to a firm which is not up to dealing with the case. And secondly, if you are offering conveyancing advice then make sure you are opting for firms who have the skills, specialism and resource to deal with what the market is going to throw at them. If you can support your client down these particular paths then you give yourself a much better chance of securing a satisfied client.
And on that note, given this is my last article of 2015 for BestAdvice, may I wish you all a Merry Christmas and let’s look forward to a very prosperous 2016.
Harpal Singh is managing director of Broker Conveyancing